Last week we looked at what Vocation is and what it means to “be called.” Everyone is called to one of four vocations and so at some point in our life, if we want to respond to God’s call, we have to think about where God wants to take us.
Figuring this out may not be easy, but it’s doable. It takes time, prayer, trust, patience and love. Catholics call this “figuring out,” discernment.
Discernment has to do with decision-making. It has to do with distinguishing between several options. We could say that discernment has to do with detecting or perceiving the distinctions between things. It has to do with defining or discriminating between things.
Catholics use the word discernment to describe the process of making important decisions with God. There are many definitions of discernment, but this is my favourite: “A process of prayerful reflection which leads to the understanding of God’s call. It involves listening to God in all the ways that God communicates with us: in prayer, in the Scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and in other people.”
God speaks to us in different ways. As the definition above describes, God speaks to us in prayer, through Scriptures, through the Church and the world, through our personal experiences and through those around us. I think that God has a preferred way to communicate with each one of us. In my case, God very clearly communicates to me through other people, through Scriptures and through my past experiences.
God gives us our talents and our desires. God also gives us opportunities. If you have a talent for something, say music, and you also have a desire for that one thing; you desire to play music; you love playing music – and then you God gives you opportunities to play music, then it’s likely that this is an area where God wants you.
At the same time, I don’t know if it matters to God whether we play a guitar or a violin, or whether you are a music conductor or a music teacher. He simply has given you certain gifts and desires, and has given you certain opportunities. What we do with that is up to us.
When you are discerning something, you have to begin by looking at your talents, your desires and the opportunities you’ve had in your life. If I look at my talents and gifts; if I look at what I love to do and what I’m good at doing, those are all indications of what God wants for my life.
Another way to see what God wants for you is to see what opportunities you have. Let’s say that you want to attend a particular university but you win a scholarship to another one – or you have a chance to travel to a different country – maybe God is trying to tell you something. What really works for me is seeing how God has been working in my life: Where have I been? What opportunities and experiences have I had? How has my prayer life been? How do I best hear God communicating with me? These are also good indicators of where God is taking me.
Discernment also involves listening to what others are saying to you. Listening to my family and friends is very important to me. We don’t make decisions on our own and the people who know us, love us and want the best for us can be of great help in finding out what’s good for us. If you have many people telling you that you’d make a great deacon, that should count for something.
Most importantly, you need to be prayerful. (This is why a good spiritual director always asks, “How’s your prayer life?”) After all, discerning is about listening to God’s will. In discerning, we need to speak with God, but most importantly we need to listen to God in prayer.
One way we listen to God is by reading or listening to his Word. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Learn what God’s plan for humanity and the world is. There’s a good chance that his plan for you has something to do with that.
We also learn about God’s will by learning what the Church teaches. We are not alone in our journey towards Heaven. There is a wealth of information, history, tradition and wisdom that belongs to the Catholic Church. We need to be part of that.
So next time you have to make a big decision, ask your friends and family what they think, pray about it, read the Bible, see what the Church teaches about that particular issue, and see how you feel about it. And take your time. One of Pope Francis’ favourite saints is Peter Faber who said that “time is God’s messenger.” If you follow these guidelines and take your time, you’ll be sure to make the best decision possible.
Discerning our vocation involves the same process. But our vocation is much more important than figuring out whether we’re going to learn a musical instrument or grow up to be a music teacher or conductor. As we said last week, your vocation is not a career or job. It is the best way that each one of us, individually, can respond to God’s call to holiness. There are four ways in which we can respond to the call to holiness. These four are what the Church calls Vocations:
- Vocation to the single life
- Vocation to the religious life
- Vocation to the ordained life
- Vocation to the married life
Next week we’ll take a look at the Single Life.